American OO Today

The online magazine on the history and operation of vintage scale model trains in American OO gauge

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Looking back on 40 years working in American OO

A recent note from Jack B. asked about how it felt to look back on 40 years in American OO. 40 YEARS!!! Checking in my files he was absolutely right, I purchased my first Eastern OO kit in August of 1977, and began corresponding with Temple Nieter, who encouraged me greatly, starting in November of 1977. I was only 15 (!!) at the time, having built a small layout in HO and also having dabbled in TT. Oh my, time flies. I had discovered OO originally in an old model railroading book that belonged to my older brother. This forgotten gauge intrigued me.

Temple Nieter referred to himself and others like him who got going in American OO when it was still commercially available as “OOdtimers.” Basically, they had got going in OO then, why switch? In the context of 2017 I am now an OOldtimer for kind of the same reason, I developed a level of expertise and like the size, feel, and history of the scale. And also, there's that part of me that does not want to do what everyone else is doing I guess.

I was not working on models actively when I was in grad school and in the early years of marriage and kids. But I did keep everything and picked back up where I left off. The models seen in the photo here are among my very earliest, the freelanced Fall River boxcab being my first OO locomotive, built up mostly from HO parts (the body started life as a Athearn F7B, the drive and other parts are from an AHM RS2), and that Eastern boxcar is my very first car, built from a fresh kit purchased directly from Eastern (which was still in business then). I also posted a video of a group of my early models in operation in the American OO Facebook group (here). As seen there, my main freelanced line has always been the Orient, I started building HO models for it before I got into OO (more on the Orient here).

I have enough projects to keep me busy for the next 20 years for sure, and part of what keeps me going is puzzling over projects and history. Like the truck project that became a summer goal for example (more here), I had a lot of S-C truck parts that could not be used really for lack of bolsters, then the 3D ones come out and boom. At one point about ten years ago I was down to just a few usable pair of trucks! Now I have put most of the usable parts to good use and have enough to last me that 20 years I bet.

Of course, the argument could be made that I could puzzle over projects in any scale, but OO does suit me. I’m not a fine scale modeler, I like the type of modeling I loosely call “retro modeling.” And learning new skills has been fun, such as casting in resin this past summer (more starting here).

As to goals, I hope to start back up the history series again (I have notes ready to start working on the 1960s) and take it up to today, then start back in on working toward a book of some sort, on OO. The big picture goal being to write something that is accurate but not boring, looking at the people in the scale in particular, and hopefully written in such a way that people who are interested in the history of model railroading in general would find it a good read.

In any case, yes, it has been 40 years. Wow. Hopefully 40 years from now there will still be some people still interested in our mostly forgotten scale.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Photos: A Scale-Craft 4-8-4

One of my recent projects was getting this vintage Scale-Craft 4-8-4 running. The drive was locked up and the wiring to an existing manual reverser was shot. But the motor was still good it turns out, and the model basically solid. It was originally built by someone who took some real time with the work. This is the post-war version of the model, with the built up frame. A couple of the springs were missing on the drivers and I rewired the model with a modern rectifier. In the photo, one wire has come off the connection to the tender. If I were to do it again, I would think about replacing the motor, but the model does run fine now, needing (sigh) larger curves than I have on my layout (it would run fine on something more like 36" radius). Click on any photo for a better view of this vintage model.

I have another of these models in the shop as well, needing a bit more TLC and it will get a new motor.  For more on the two versions of this model see this article. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A deeper look at sprung Graceline trucks

One puzzle for me recently has been assembling more working examples of sprung Graceline trucks. Their Andrews trucks were introduced in 1941 (more here), and the other versions are products they were developing and sold to some extent early in the WWII era. Their post-war successor, Transportation Models, sold a different truck that took the refinements further (but not very well executed, I have never seen one successfully built up, more here).

If you have any of these Graceline trucks around you may not have good feelings about them. The wheelsets shipped out were terrible (the plastic wheels were undersized in every dimension! Don’t track well and look very small in the big trucks), the wheelbase is (with one exception, seen in this photo) well over length, but the even bigger problem is A LOT of these have issues with the castings. Their earlier products have held up better.

However, in reality, by now if a vintage casting was going to go bad it has gone bad already. In various purchases, I have obtained these trucks, including a group of kits for the Andrews trucks. Also, years ago, I had tried to work on these and have on hand usable reproduction bolsters from that project. In short, I had enough parts around to think about working on them again with the Graceline hopper project also underway.

The frustration I had with these in the past was my reproduction sideframes were not stiff enough and also the wheels fall out easily. The few working vintage trucks I had come across all had some iteration of Famoco wheelsets, but those are so variable (tread width and flange issues) that even then they were not very usable.

Another issue in my past work trying to build or rehab these trucks was using modern axles that have the > ends. What I ultimately learned with that was that vintage trucks that are equalized at all actually need blunt end axles or the wheels tend to fall out when handling the car.

Periodically I would note that I had also saved a group of the "oddball" early S-C freight wheelsets with bakelite wheels (like were used on the front truck of the 4-6-0). They track fine, but need a truck with a wide opening and are difficult to use in Scale-Craft trucks, they need an exceptionally long bolster. But I found that these wheels can work great in the Graceline trucks, at least the Andrews trucks, they are in the truck on the left in the top photo.

The other story to tell is of what was some product development being done by Graceline during the war years. According to their catalog from early in the war the trucks available then were the sprung trucks, "the finest detailed and smoothest operating trucks in 00."

No. 181--A.R.A.
No. 182--Andrews
No. 184--Arch Bar

I had at some point early on stumbled onto examples of two versions of the A.R.A (Bettendorf) truck, all using the same bolster. I actually made molds of the “big” one years ago, which has a wheelbase that nearly matches the Andrews truck. There is also a “small” version that is scaled pretty well for OO, seen at the bottom of the comparison photo and at the right in the top photo.

I have not built up the arch bar example and probably won’t, they are somewhat overscale and fragile. I have a couple working pair of the big Bettendorf trucks (seen also in the final photo, on the left), those I did make work with careful adjustment using modern wheelsets with > axles. The one that intrigues me today is the small Bettendorf. I have two pair I did just get working. The design needs an axle that is very short and square, the journal boxes are small. I have parts to make several more pair but after a thorough search I don’t have any more suitable wheelsets on hand. A project for another day, as the built up trucks really are very nice.

I should mention there are two styles of bolsters. The ones packaged with the Andrews truck kits I have is lighter in cross section but none have been usable. The heavier style works with all these sideframes, and is what I reproduced.

The springs are not easy to put in. Among the Graceline springs I had the larger diameter ones look better. A lot of those same springs were too big (up and down) and it helped to cut them down at least a little. As I ran out of those I switched to what I am sure are O-scale springs which work pretty well.

I have built up or worked over seven pair of Andrews trucks, mostly with the S-C wheelsets but one has other vintage wheelsets that happened to fit, some iteration of Famoco. I mentioned earlier that I have unopened packages of these trucks, just like shipped out by Graceline. Every bolster I have checked so far has been unusable and I also put the side frames to a simple test. Does it break in my hands? About 3 of 4 cracks easily if not already broken. I can squeeze out one more pair of Andrews trucks from parts on hand (when more wheelsets are located), and have more than enough for the hopper project now.

On that project, a brief update is, as already posted (here), I have a car together, I plan to work up a frame mold, and have materials to move forward more when the weather cools off a bit, which it will soon. Projects are moving slowly, but I have enjoyed puzzling over them which certainly is what keeps me going in American OO.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A look at frames for American OO freight cars

Besides the full floor castings seen on Lionel boxcars, the Nason cast boxcar, and a number of Scale-Craft models (boxcars, stock cars, and late style reefers, plus the “half floor” used on their flat car), there are a number of distinct frame castings which are to be seen on vintage American OO freight cars.

Since Scale-Craft was mentioned already, to begin we have the frame used on the early version of their reefer. It is cast in the same, hard die-casting material as all of their castings. In the photo with it is a similar frame, Graceline, which is a soft metal casting. This frame was also produced by Selley as a separate sale item – and actually Selley also sold a version of the Nason reefer frame and a unique 50’ frame as well. More on that in a bit. And click on any photo for a bigger view.

Having just mentioned Nason twice, they made three distinct types of frames seen in this photo. The 50’ frame I have only seen in bronze, probably for the weight as it is for their flat car. The middle frame in the photo is the reefer frame and might be the Selley version of this. I have seen this casting in aluminum and in soft metal, this one is soft metal. It would be easy to just say the aluminum version is the Nason version, but if that is the whole story I don’t know, they sold cars for a long time with a series of owners. It is fish belly in design though, which visually defines it from their boxcar frame which is straight. The idea I think they had was that the reefer frame is for a wood car and the boxcar frame is for a steel car. It also came with their gondola kit.

Next up are the Eastern frame and the two versions of the Famoco frame. The early version of Famoco is the unmarked frame; later production split the frame in half to avoid shorts due to the trucks potentially getting rotated and picking up electricity from opposite sides of the track. The Famoco frames are of a hard die casting metal and the Eastern frame is a soft metal casting.

The next three frames are for Hawk cars. These are not real common; the 50’ frame is for their double door boxcar, the 40’ fish belly frame is associated with their boxcar and gondola, and the short frame (with the nice rivet detail) is for their caboose. The material is a soft metal and might actually just be straight lead from the look and feel.

Finally we have these three frames. The one at the top is the Selley 50’ frame, mentioned earlier and not a part of any kit, but it would have been handy building up a Picard 50' body. It is soft metal. The bottom one is also soft metal and is from the very rarely seen Hoffman kits. The middle one is sand cast bronze and is … a mystery. I have two of these. If it was just some project part made by someone back in the day or part of a very obscure kit or part line I don’t know. The fish belly is slightly canted to one side giving it more of the feel of the project of some individual.

Knowing what type of frame casting a car has can be helpful in identifying a model, but to close keep in mind that there was nothing to stop someone from using a different frame casting on something else. It was their model railroad after all, and hopefully they were happy with the results.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Castings! Part IV, building the pilot models

Slowly I have been working with the resin castings for the boxcar and hopper, and building up the models. Which has had a learning curve and a lot to ponder.

The first boxcar built up from the castings is in this first photo next to an original Nason sand-cast aluminum car that came to me in parts. Someone had done some good work with it, drilling a lot of holes and also tapping the holes necessary to assemble the car with machine screws.

With my new resin cast model, I was originally thinking to glue it together. But how? I finally realized that made no sense and added complication, it would be easier for sure to just do it with screws as Nason designed it. This means, however, some of my “good” castings are not real usable as hardly any of the tabs on the back of the sides and ends really filled up well. On one end I cut/sanded the tab off and replaced with square plastic, which worked.

In any case, I did get a first car together. Note that inside I added a piece of strip wood. I think that is the most logical way to hold the roof on, although the builder of the aluminum car was clearly thinking to use a lot of pins to hold the roof in place. It is a nice tight fit, won’t fall off certainly.

Probably I will still super glue the resin body together – maybe just the sides to the ends, leaving a removable floor and a removable roof. Next steps after that include working out ladders and other details of the car, and matching those with the vintage aluminum body. I think in the end you won’t be able, visually, to tell the two models apart.

Next up we have the Graceline hopper, one with my cast sides next to an original in the photo. The sides ended up being about 1/16 inch shorter in length than the original wood block body, so that was modified to suit the sides along with the original frame. The ends are originals from the parts supply and the bolsters are my reproduction castings. It took a lot of puzzling, and a helpful thing to me were the scale drawings in the 1944 Model Railroader Cyclopedia. 

Not seen in the photos are the hopper bottoms on the car in progress. The vintage block bodies I have only have hoppers for triple hoppers with them. I opted finally (shortly after the photos were taken) to make two more hoppers for the pilot model, it will be a quad hopper as designed.

In the final photo is also seen a loose frame for a Graceline hopper. This is a stabilized and rebuilt vintage part that I am hoping to copy next. The idea is to use it to make a complete set of castings for a Graceline reproduction hopper in resin and metal, one that won't need the wood block body. First though I need to seal it really well and work out details a bit better.

To close, I mentioned these are pilot models. It is fun thinking of them that way anyway. If these end up being castings I can make so well that I feel comfortable selling them or if they are simply a curiosity I give away to OO friends, time will tell.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Graceline reefer, restored

I have a soft spot for Graceline cars with the hand painted sides. (More on the topic here)

This particular car I have owned for some 20 years but have never had on display as it was lacking a roof. Looking at this pre-war model again recently I realized it would not take much time at all to work up a close approximation of the original roof. I used a spare late Graceline or Transportation Models roof as the base, adding a Scale-Craft roof walk and Eastern/Famoco hatches. I painted all the parts before adding them to the car. It was also missing ladders on the sides, so those I worked up from Eastern/Famoco castings. Testors brown is a little browner than the paint used on the ends by the original builder but is close enough to not stand out as very different. I did not replace the missing brake wheel.

Turning to the bottom (and the other side of the car – if you look closely you can spot differences in the lettering), it needed trucks. I opted at least for now for a spare pair of early Graceline trucks, the ones that look like S-C trucks from the side but they are quite different. This particular pair rolls fine but the wheelsets are under gauge, so if I decide to really operate this car I will have to work it over further.

The Kadee couplers are probably overkill for a car that I don’t plan to operate, but the long shank versions were an easy install. I do have a few original Graceline couplers, it would make sense to go back and put those on instead.

The hand lettering is distinctive. I love displaying these early Graceline models and do so with no fear of fading. Some lines of printed sides, in contrast, I keep in the dark in boxes (especially Champion).

Thursday, June 22, 2017

S-C reefers with Tichy decals

Part of my recent push to work on reefers involved these three Scale-Craft reefers.

They were all in pretty rough shape and were missing some parts. I decided to put them back to the best condition I reasonably could without being real heroic about it. My main goal for the project was to make use of my newly purchased Tichy OO scale PFE decals. (More on the Tichy decals here). Missing parts were replaced, but I did not change any of the cars particularly compared to how the original builders constructed these pre-war models. Two cars have the frames that have the bolsters away from the ends too far and one has the trucks at the more correct location of models made closer to WWII.With the black trucks on the layout the difference is not very noticeable.

The big thing was painting. I sprayed them with three colors from cans. The sides are the critical item and for that I used Testors Grabber Orange. This is actually a Ford car color but is a good stand-in for PFE orange. The sides were masked off (after that cured thoroughly), then I painted the brown and let that cure and masked again to paint the frame and that strip at the bottom of the sides flat black. The effect came out really well, click on the photos for a better view.

And the decals also really make the cars, they look great. The only thing to note as a big quirk of this decal set is that the logos want to curl up rather than snuggle down! I actually had to put foam and a weight on top of them to hold them down flat after application.

One car it may be noted has the variation of the paint scheme where only one logo is seen per side. That car actually had some paint lift on the side right in the middle, so the logo there covered that.

They are all on trucks rebuilt with the 3D printed S-C bolsters and operate great. I am very pleased how they came out, especially compared to where they started. The sand-cast details are clunky of course but have their own charm, I will enjoy running these cars.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Castings! Part III, fine tuning methods

Continuing the series, I have kept plugging away on this project of trying to make resin castings of American OO car bodies.

The initial castings were OK but I felt that some parts needed a stiffer resin. Micro-Mark sells three types, I had been using the medium type but tried the harder one. For these parts in the photo I think the harder resin is a plus, the section is fairly thin and you can feel the difference. For thicker parts, however, I noted that the difference was hardly noticeable.

So, my plan for now is to use up all the medium resin making those thicker parts and keep working to make the parts that need the harder resin too.

There were also some parts I was trying to make in vintage molds that were made by Temple Nieter in the 1970s. The issue has been even using very heavy coatings of mold release those molds tend to want to stick and tear. Bottom line is that I will need to back off using those molds. Fortunately, I have made some good copies of the hopper car side now and I have originals of the ends and another needed part.

The next purchase will be more of the mold making material. I am wishing I had made my new molds generally larger and thicker, so that is another tweak coming in the next batch of molds. I may try to make another car type in the molds, too, pondering needs and what materials are on hand.

As to offering these for sale, at this point hardly any parts are actually perfect to the level I would sell them, if I do go that direction that is a ways in the future. And, with the cure time involved, I only at best get one good part a day.

But with that I think there is enough info here for any of you out there thinking about making a mold and casting parts to give it a try. It is not that hard to do really, the most time-consuming part is mostly setup. Give it a try!

Return to Part I of series

Continue in series

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The great truck project of 2017

Over the years I know that I tend to get going on projects that are not what I thought I might get going on.

In this case, I hoped to be working on steam locomotives now but the big early summer project was working up some good trucks -- quite a lot of them. Some examples are seen here. Up at the upper left are some of the first part of the project. I like cars in the collection to be on working trucks, and I had several that while they were working Nason trucks they were unpainted and also three-rail trucks. I thought though, they could be reworked, and from experience I know they potentially can roll really well and should be on good cars. So those I updated with vintage Ultimate wheelsets made for use in Scale-Craft trucks, in the process working through a number of cars in the collection (mostly with printed sides) so that every car is on working trucks.

That got my truck supply down a bit, but then the 3D printed Scale-Craft bolsters arrived, as described in this article. I had parts saved from a number of trucks that had been assembled and running at some point in the past, but lacked bolsters to get them running. Which had been bothering me for years, not to mention that I had "complete" trucks that would hardly roll and needed attention.

All the S-C trucks in the photo have the 3D bolsters. The freight trucks above were built up with vintage parts, making sure that the wheels all match.

The 6 wheel passenger trucks have more of a story. I had several more sets of side frames and wheels that would work but no extra of the brass bolsters for many years. Then, in some parts, a supply of that part came but they were oddball parts in that the holes were drilled out (at the factory!) too big! You could not use S-C screws or any other screws the size that would pass through a standard S-C bolster hole.

However, 3D bolsters to the rescue, it is easy to drill them out bigger, which would allow me to use 2-56 screws to finish them off. The shiny wheelsets are Ultimate (Bud Spice) wheelsets. I find that their passenger wheelsets can only be used in the 6-wheel trucks, in 4-wheels trucks things flex too much and they end up shorting out all the time. I have completely run down my supply of these, although I do have some extra freight wheels.

All of the trucks seen in the photo are super square and roll great. And finally the truck project is slowing down, as I ran the parts supply down pretty good and have quite a number of trucks ready for cars. I have just a few more six wheel passenger trucks to attempt to work over, sideframes having been modified by a prior owner but probably can be set up still with Kemtron wheels, which I have a few of. With the other next step being some evaluation of how many trucks are on hand in relation to projects and project cars -- if there are enough extras some of these trucks will end up on eBay to help some other people out.

UPDATE: I quickly gave in and worked over three pair of basket case S-C 6-wheel truck sideframes to make very workable trucks. In total to now I have made 60 bolsters from the 3D parts, they have solved many problems.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Castings! Part II, making the first resin castings

In the set from Micro-Mark they include a casting resin. It is the medium type of what they sell in terms of speed to cure and hardness. I found it to work pretty well for working out techniques with these molds.

The first castings were not great. One big adjustment was that compared to when I make metal castings you need to vent the mold more, to allow air bubbles to escape. I think the weight of the molten metal tends to push out the bubbles better.

Prior to casting you spray on the mold release material for the resin, which is a different release than used when making the molds. The resin material said it had a working life of 7 minutes but in reality, the material was the most liquid – almost like water – for the first 3 minutes or so. Pour it quickly!

My very first test casting I made in an old mold that I had actually never used (a Famoco baggage car end) and it came out pretty well. So, I forged on. I colored the resin using some brown colorant I had from when I tried to make castings in high school, not always the same amount, so the color ranged from white to the darker hue seen.

Another item to note is you have to make wood blocks to clamp the mold tightly with rubber bands. I tried a couple other methods, but in the flat wood blocks and rubber bands really work the best.

My initial work focused on the parts for the Nason sand-cast boxcar.

But with things going fairly well I got to thinking back to the Nieter molds that I had purchased, in particular two large parts, his version of sides for the Graceline hopper and also the Limco P54 (MP54) passenger car. I found that I needed to use a heavy coat of mold release but they otherwise worked fine with some extra venting! This was particularly exciting with the hopper sides, as I have a half dozen of the wood block bodies that are for this car but have no sides and few ends. The actual sides are pressed cardboard, which Nieter modified to make a mold from. I may try his idea with some of the other Graceline sides too, if I can ultimately get castings of high enough quality.

As to the Limco car, I have molds for the sides, ends, underframe, and trucks. Not sure there is much demand for this car, but I will try to make at least one complete model of this too.

In terms of time this all takes some time but not that much also. Basically, there is a setup to do, and you have to have a clear working space for it, but at any given step you won’t spend much over 15 minutes at a time. After that it is just a waiting game for the material to cure.

The good news is many of the castings are usable in terms of not too many bubbles. The bad news is the casting material is a bit too flexible in the thin sections that I am working with to actually use them on a car. So, for now I things are stalled and I have a harder resin on order. It should work better, but will slow production down too as the cure time is 16 hours.

In any case though I am happy with how things have gone so far and be looking for a part III with hopefully some castings that can be used on models.

Continue to Part III